How One Maine Ski Resort Is Preparing for This Very Different Season

"People are going to have to embrace the mantra, 'Life is better outside,'" said the general manager and CEO of Saddleback Mountain

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Maine’s ski areas are getting ready for a winter managing both guests and a pandemic.

On Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills’ office released a COVID-19 safety checklist for the state's ski areas planning to reopen for the winter. The list includes suggestions like telling resorts to consider moving services such as rental pick-up areas outdoors and requirements that ski areas create disinfection protocols and have guests wear masks.

At Saddleback Mountain, which is preparing to reopen for the first time in five years under new owners, Arctaris Impact Fund, COVID-19 has been worked into the plan to welcome visitors back since the beginning part of the year.

“We’ve been wargaming every possible scenario,” said Andy Shepard, the general manager and CEO of Saddleback Mountain.

“We bought the mountain on January 31 and the pandemic happened fairly soon after that,” he explained.

A nationwide project is calling on skiers and riders to contribute goggles to help protect frontline medical staff against COVID-19.

The precautions Saddleback is taking will be visible both indoors and out.

According to Shepard, this year, visitors will be allowed to ski in and out straight from the parking lot.

There will be food and beverage offerings there, with outdoor dining at the lodge’s restaurants an option as well.

Indoors, Shepard explained, a new ventilation system that turns air over “three times faster” has been installed and there are plexiglass shields around bars. Seating to eat in the lodge will be limited to 50 people and bathrooms have been upgraded with plume-less toilets and touchless dispensers.

“The biggest key, though, is skiers, not just at Saddleback but around the country, significantly lowering their expectations of how much time they’re going to be spending inside the lodge,” said Shepard, adding, “people are going to have to embrace the mantra, ‘Life is better outside.’”

That said, with the potential that fewer New Englanders fly to ski resorts farther afield this winter, Shepard and Jonathan Tower, the founder and managing partner of Arctaris Impact Fund, expect at least some skiers, tired of being cooped up in their homes, may want to make the most of their immediate surroundings and try Saddleback.

“This is a true skier’s mountain,” Tower said.

Saddleback Mountain is expected to reopen to the public on Dec. 15.

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